December 31st, 2019 – January 6th, 2020
Once again I took the day slowly staying in bed until Frank wanted to do something. This didn’t end up happening until afternoon sometime. I had made him get up to relieve himself after which we promptly returned to the warmth of our blanket pile. Healing is my top priority if I am going to break out of cycle the overdoing it before I am healed and then making it worse again. I decided that aside from our basic care I am going to as little as possible. I spend the morning listening to most of ‘A Grown Up Guide to Dinosaurs’ by Ben Garrod on audible. It is a perfect bluebird day, cold and bright with a band of moist air sitting at the base of the La Sal mountains.
We are in the same area of dispersed camping we occupied our first week in town but now it is covered in snow. I arrived by night and had stayed in a level spot next to the main road not wanting to explore in the dark. Having been stuck in the snow many times in this van I am now being extra cautious this trip to avoid that. The task of getting unstuck takes an effort beyond my current physical abilities, so instead of having a spot I really like I take what is easy. Now that is is day and Frank wants to go for a walk I decided to drive us to a trail and then find a better spot after. One where my cooking area will be in the sun and we are further from the road.
I choose a fairly level 5km loop and walk slowly. There are coyote and rabbit footprints everywhere and Frank is very happy to be in the sun. I make it about a third of our hike before I felt tired and spend the rest of the walk feeling like I am at a much higher elevation. The sights are beautiful, but the sun is intense and my breathing is laboured. I am relieved to be back at the van and spend a unnecessarily long time warming the engine before driving.
I return to a spot I know well and park on some exposed slick rock angled for maximum sun warming letting the engine run for awhile while I sit in the cab. I am feeling a little stressed by my self imposed podcast schedule. Being unable to walk and talk at the same time I have not bothered to record a new episode but instead of working I just want to lay down for awhile. We enjoy the warmth of the van for awhile and then while there is still sun on us I set to the task of dinner. I play fetch with Frank while I cook and then enjoy one of the tastiest vegan quesadillas I’ve ever made.
I am in bed shortly after 6pm and asleep soon after, not bothering to write this until the next morning. I don’t even care that it’s new years and listen to my bodies needs instead.
To battle the cold nights I’ve been sleeping with all the windows covered and as a result I don’t wake up till 9am. Letting in the daylight I peek outside and there is a dusting of fresh snow. I am strangely annoyed by the continued precipitation, but at the same time admire the beauty of the desert landscape in winter. I’ve fallen into a funk and have no motivation to do anything. My muscles are roaring to hike all day but my lungs are exhausted and I don’t feel much like eating so I have no energy. Frank cooperates with my need to rest, and we spend the entire day inside aside from bathroom breaks and a pathetic fetch session.
By now you might be wondering why I don’t just go somewhere easier to be outside given I live in my van. Somewhere warmer and maybe a little more humid. I mean isn’t that the point of #vanlife? Well, my primary reason is to conserve fuel instead of burning tons of gas driving back and forth across the country. In a little less than 2 weeks I need to be somewhere several hundred miles directly east of here. Driving is hard on my body and my wallet is slim, so I have chosen to stay here. It is a wonderful place to make a home base with lots of access to public lands near town allowing me to camp for free without hassle and make use of town. Logistically it is what makes the most sense and so here I am. Besides, I am inspired here. The landscape stimulates my favourite type of intellectual daydreaming, my muse is happy and I feel strangely at home.
I end up spending most of the day working on my podcast, but am unable to create something I am satisfied publishing. The episode I am working on is by far the longest yet and I want to make sure I don’t forget anything important. I am struggling to find a way to support people without encouraging them, and perhaps just slightly discourage them. The vast majority of dogs that are taken out on trail end up being pushed too hard and I would hate to inspire that. That said I also want to help people keep there dogs as safe as possible. It is a moral dilemma I did not foresee.
I have begun eating my homemade camp meals for dinner because it is the easiest thing I can make that still feels like a real meal. The canned food I add to Franks kibble is frozen solid so I mix hot water into his food to make it edible. I always wondered how ancient people stayed warm in winter. Blankets. Blankets are the answer I assume. Blankets were a hot commodity, and one in which I am happy to be well endowed.
Another day, another dusting of snow. By this point I figure we must be getting the years precipitation all in snow while I am here. I knew it would be cold here in the desert but I had expected it would be drier. The day is totally flat again, just grey and cold outside. Inside I want to stay in bed where it is warm, but decide for some reason that we need to go to town.
I spend awhile playing fetch with Frank while I clean up the van before racing to the outhouse about a mile away. The flat lighting hides bumps on the snow covered road and I am clenching for dear life when I finally make it. ‘Better than bagging it’ I think to myself as I get back into the warm van and head to town.
I had a weird nights sleep waking shortly after 3am feeling wide awake but not actually wanting to get up. I spent several hours snuggling Frank before falling back asleep only to have horrible dreams and then finally waking later than I had hoped. The end result is that I was in a very irritable mood with very low tolerance for existing in general, but recognizing this and do my best to work through it.
The cafe is surprisingly busy when I arrive but there is a table with power available, so I stay. I don’t think I actually need another coffee but am stoked to score half a loaf of their incredibly dense and tasty organic sourdough bread for free. I hugged the bread upon removing it from the free basket and even the woman at the cashier was surprised it bad been placed there. I felt so lucky in that moment. Sitting at my table I plug in my computer and power banks, and then edit and post week 4 of this blog. By the time that is done I have been in the cafe for two hours and they are closing.
Returning to the van I can tell Frank is asking to do something fun, so we head off down a road near town we have yet to explore. I find us a short hike, 1km and we set out. I go slow, and can tell based on Franks incessant sniffing that a LOT of people take their dogs there. I try to admire some ancient rock art, but so many assholes have left graffiti on the rock that I leave more disappointed than anything. Our short walk had taken 45 minutes which for me may be the slowest kilometre ever, and it was totally flat.
With Frank only minimally satisfied we head back to town so I can shower. I stand under the water for a long time letting it heat my chest, breathing in the humid air. It feels so good to be this warm and I wonder why I don’t shower more often. It had been two weeks since the last and if I really wanted my $5 shower could last for hours and nobody would say a thing. I consider staying in the water for longer but I am clean and need time to let my hair dry at the roaster. I think Frank is annoyed when I go into the roaster but I can’t head to camp with wet hair. Afterwards I take Frank to the Barkery again and they have a new treat in stock. Frank immediately decided that he must have it and has no desire to sniff about. He just stares at the treat in my hand and after paying we leave town back to our home base.
It was not an eventful day but at least Frank had more fun than the day before. After dinner he enjoys his treat immensely, and then when I start typing he falls fast asleep. It feels so good to be clean, with a warm dinner in my belly. Such simple things that mean so much when your life is not continually comfortable. As I write I listen to Frank breathing, and I want to feel better more for him than for any other reason.
Last night while laying in bed listening to “The Secret of the Yoga Sutra” by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait PhD I was reminded of the practice of Pranayama. How I did not think of intentional breathing sooner as a tool to heal my lungs I do not know. While continuing to listen I worked on complete inhalation and exhalations performed slowly. Considering it felt like I wasn’t getting enough air I guessed this would be a good start.
I woke up feeling much better than I have lately. I felt rested and had more energy, but I also felt inspired to write. Since Frank was happy in bed, and I wanted to stay on a healing path I spent the morning writing. It was such a wonderful feeling to be nestled in bed sipping a hot coffee excitedly typing. I started by completely throwing away the workflow I had always used even though it never really worked for me. Instead of agonizingly forcing myself through a outline and then starting from the top I just started writing. As the words flowed onto the screen I organized them, and the piece starting coming together. Then when noon struck I closed the computer with faith that the flow would resume later and packed up the van.
When instead of going to town we turned into a canyon Frank became interested. I told him leaving camp that we were going for a walk, but I don’t think he believed me. The road winds it’s way East nestled between the Colorado River and bluffs of red, tan, and black rock. This road is new terrain for us and I’m glad there was no one behind us as we drive. It was only a couple miles to the trailhead, but my desire to gawk at everything made it feel much longer. Then we pull into the trailhead parking, and Frank realizes we are indeed going for a walk.
For our walk I had chosen a 7km (round trip) walk up Negro Bill Canyon along the Grandstaff Trail. What I had not realized before arriving was that the terminus of the hike is a natural bridge call the ‘Morning Glory Natural Bridge’ and is the 6th longest natural rock span in the USA at a length of 243ft. ‘Maybe I will make it there’ I think as we set out. To increase my chances I had packed a thermos of hot tea, and dressed to stay warm while walking slowly.
The day was overcast and while still freezing felt warmer than recent days. As we start into the canyon Frank is little bundle of joy. He would stop to sniff and mark then as he ran past me would give my hand a gentle mouthing or nudge with his nose. Now ahead he would stop to sniff, I would pass and again as he passed would make sure to let me know how happy he was to be out walking. Each time he did this I would giggle, and he would get more excited bouncing about like a puppy. We come across some very out of season green grass which Frank of course partakes in. The canyon is full of snow covered plants including several types of trees which I do not yet know about and large patches of cacti. The canyon walls continually change shape and texture with boulders strewn about and a good flow of water in the stream below. The trail winds it way up the canyon crossing back and forth over the river on stepping stones. Many of the steps are partially submerged, and at times we skirt between the water and sandstone walls. The trail is slick from many feet and I carefully climb over rocky sections using my own body as a chock in case me feet slip out from under me. Frank is oblivious to the slickness I experience and sighs at me to hurry up. My legs feel like I am hiking very slow but my lungs are working hard. Despite this we somehow overtake several groups of people and I wonder if I am pushing too hard.
Every time I look up the view is different and always beautiful even if the lighting is absolutely horrible for photography. The smile on my face is huge, and despite the effort my lungs need to make they dont actually hurt much. This is a huge relief, and we make it to the natural bridge where we take a break. I drink tea admiring the bridge, and the ongoing process of erosion. Water flows down the back of a crack, into the pool below and then makes it way down the canyon to enter the Colorado River. There are several other people out on the trail, most of whom have dogs as well. Frank is happy to see other dogs and continues to be in an amazing mood. The canyon was so incredible that I decide we must go back on a sunny day to see what the shadows will reveal.
When we get back to Truck I am happy to be done hiking, but also don’t feel like I overdid it. It has been a great day of writing and hiking. The best part was seeing Frank so happy. After getting him a special treat in town we head back out to camp where we eat dinner and I resume writing.
Today was a strange day. I woke up feeling pretty good although not better, and as usual enjoyed a nice slow morning. I had been up late writing, and resumed in the morning while I enjoyed coffee. And then in late morning with no real plan other than to ensure Frank got a walk we set off. This time we headed down Potash Rd which follows the Colorado River westward from the main highway. It is another overcast day, and I miss the sun as intense as it is at time.
There is a climbing area right along the road, and I pine to be climbing again. Making climbing a priority when my time here is done is feeling more and more likely, but for now I am just working on getting my lungs back to normal. I decide we will hike to the Corona Arch which is a shorter trip than the day before, and in a completely different environment. Instead of winding up a deep, plant filled canyon we are much more in the open with rock walls all around and a railway down below blasted deep into the bedrock. The area is a popular habitat for Bighorn Sheep, so Frank is on a leash attached to my backpacks waist belt. Rounding a corner the arch comes into sight and soon after we reach an exciting obstacle.
The rock we are walking on steepens significantly, there are ‘footsteps’ carved into the smooth rock and a metal cable for a handrail. We wait at the bottom for a man who is clearly out of his comfort zone to slowly make his way down. He is on his butt facing outwards, not quite sliding but definitely not walking. Then his partner comes down and we start up, Frank still attached to me. I take several steps up then hear a shocked gasp from the couple, and Franks nails scratching against the stone. He was sliding down, and I was tied to him. As the rope went tight I braced myself, Franks neck outstretched, he had caught himself as well and I thankfully don’t come careening off the rock. I took a step down and tried to encourage him to follow me, but he didn’t want to come up. Still tied together the two of us returned to the ground below. The obstacle is easier than a lot of things we have done in the mountains, but it has been awhile since we have done much scrambling.
I take a moment to reassess the potential hazards over the line of the climb and decide we will try again. This time I unleash Frank, and ask him to go ahead of me as we would in the mountains. He chooses to try again and I stay close behind encouraging him. I ignore the cable and instead am focused on the most secure foot placements and stone handholds. I keep one hand firmly on the rocks and use the other to support his bum so he knows he is safe. As he climbs I only have to assist him a little on the slickest part, and then feeling confident he scurries the rest of the way through the blockier section above. My heart is racing, but it feels amazing to ascend as a team again.
Above the cable is a short ladder which Frank sees and then looks to his left which is not as steep and away from the precipitous edge. I can see the route he sees and tell him ‘go ahead, I’ll see you at the top”. He knows exactly what I am saying and before I can climb the only 4 or 5 rungs he is at the top. Frank and I share a great bond, and read each other well. He is a good listener, and very obedient in most situations. If he deems it unnecessary he might ignore me, but in those cases he is usually right, and I admire his free will. In the mountains, however, we are a well oiled machine. He always understands exactly what I want him to do, and I can read his hesitations and objections to the route ahead. If, during a descent I get off track, or head towards steeper terrain he won’t follow anymore. He will correct my mistake and lead me back to the route he knows he can do. Because I respect his opinion he trusts me, and together he has achieved some incredible summits for a dog. This was not one of them.
Above the ladder we follow a broad slickrock ledge to the arch. The parking lot has several cars in it when we arrive but find ourselves alone. We crossed paths will them all on our way up and with no-one had coming up behind us I enjoy the solitude. There are actually two arches. The larger of the two juts outward from a curve in the rock and we can walk under it. The other is flush with the cliff forming a alcove below and we can peer up through it towards the sky. In time the flow of water behind it till deepen the alcove and a small canyon will form with the arch as it’s entrance. I drink some hot tea and attempt to take a selfie together, but Frank is overjoyed climbing all over me licking my face and biting at my neck and cheek. The pictures turn out ridiculous and we start back.
Frank waits for me at the bottom of the ladder, and then follows my lead to the cable. I go first facing the rock ready to catch him is he slides. He doesn’t need my help. Instead just wants me to get out of his way so that he can descend. I give him the go ahead to pass me and then meet him at the bottom. About halfway back to the van I decided I am going to take the other fork to see a different arch but then take a moment to check in with my body and decide against it. 4km would be enough for my lungs today.
Not wanting to just go to bed we spend time driving beyond the pavement and down the dirt road for awhile. I reason since we are already in the area, and I don’t feel like walking I might as well pass time seeing what else is around. The weather is dark, the low clouds obscuring the top of the rocks in places. After awhile I feel strangely uninspired to be outside, so we head back towards town and then out to our usual parking area. It’s really quiet here and I don’t have to worry about disturbances.
It’s another overcast day, the dark clouds hanging low. Even though both the weather reports online, and on my satellite device said it would be sunny I am no longer surprised that it is not. Not having a plan for myself I crawled back into bed with Frank unmotivated to do much. It is not that I mind hiking in less than ideal weather but the lack of sun was really starting to get my down. I simply didn’t feel like doing the things I normally enjoy.
Snuggling with Frank he seemed particularly sleepy and then I noticed that his left paw was puffy. It is the same paw that had been puffy in the spring ultimately leading to a horrible medical emergency. We hadn’t found the cause of his bizarre infection but X-rays had determined that that foot contained extra fragments of calcified material. I wondered if they could perhaps be the cause. Noticing the puffiness in his paw I was rather rattled and proceeded to carefully compare the two paws. His paw was most certainly puffy, and noticeable warmer than the other.
Realizing that is was a Sunday and given that it’s a small town I didn’t bother to leave camp. Instead we stayed in bed. At 11am I forced him to get up for a bathroom trip outside. He was very lethargic and reluctant to get out of bed. As soon as his business was complete he quickly resumed his position. Growing more worried I messaged my aunt who confirmed that the vet was indeed closed. I held him close, and unable to deal with the situation I was facing fell asleep with him for most of the day.
At 4pm I forced us both to get up, go out side for a few minutes and then made a early dinner. I had a box of (vegan) mac & cheese which I had been saving for the right day and today was it. I needed comfort food and had yet to eat. I found that making dinner was a difficult task even being thought it was a simple meal. I kept breaking down into tears, and was having trouble focusing.
When Frank had first was sick I hadn’t realized it, but I suppressed a lot of the feelings at the time, and now that his paw was puffy again I was feeling all of it. I managed to eat before completely braking down in to a sobbing mess. My nose plugged with mucus I began to cough, and with virtually no warning I upheaved a massive mouthful of vomit. Unable to breathe through my nose and in the midst of a coughing fit it flew all over Frank, myself and the bed. It had already been a horrible day, and now this.
I cleaned up the mess, and got into bed knowing that the next day I would actually have to face this situation. Last time I did not know why his foot was puffy and thought little of it so I took no action. It had been the wrong choice and I am not going to let that happen again
I did not sleep well tossing and turning throughout the night before waking up way too early unable to sleep. Frank had been restless as well choosing to stay out of the blankets most of the night and refusing to cuddle. I worried he had a fever.
It is our 6 year anniversary of living in a van together. It is supposed to be a happy day. We are supposed to do something memorable together. Instead I headed into town to find a good wifi connection to call the vet who had seen him back in Canada for advice. It took several restless hours until I could speak to her but she confirmed I was making the right choice, and that he should get help sooner than later to try and figure out what was going on.
The vets in town did not have very good reviews and considering I need to be in Colorado soon I decided we would go early to have better options in a bigger town. Several weeks prior a kind woman in Fort Collins had offered us a pace to stay if we were ever in the area so I contacted her and made plans for us to go there. I had a packaged that was to arrive in Moab that was to arrive today and would depart afterwards. The package didn’t arrive.
Luckily, through the day Franks paw became less puffy, he was much more alert has his limp had stopped. We went for a short walk during which I sobbed. I was blindsided by this turn of events, but as his conditions had improved significantly I figured I didn’t have to stress quite so much about getting out of town and headed out to camp in hopes I would get more sleep.
I would in fact not sleep any better, nor would I write and had not written the day before either. This day and yesterday would be written at a later time. I could not do anything other that be with Frank unable to even think about my new reality without breaking down. I was a complete mess.
Distance travelled: 293km
Thank you for reading this blog!
If you are interested in more updates I am on Facebook as ‘Tideline to Alpine Photography and Adventure’ and on Instagram @tidelinetoalpine. I also have a podcast about backpacking with dogs called ‘WALK 9 Radio’ which you can find on iTunes, Spotify and many more.